What’s the Symbolic Meaning of the Great Wall in Chinese Culture?

The Great Wall of China is widely known as one of the most impressive and longest structures ever constructed by humans. But do you know what it means for the Chinese people and their cultural identity? What does the Great Wall of China represent in Chinese culture?

Sign of Peace

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Great Wall of China is the formidable walls that were fortified and besieged. In fact, this is not comprehensive. Strictly speaking, the vast majority of locations along the Great Wall were never involved in conflicts, and even when they were, most of the time they were not. The Great Wall of China served as a tool for preventing war.

Ancient human civilizations generally developed alongside the emergence of cultivated agriculture. In ancient China's Central Plains, agriculture was always the foundation of the nation, and protecting farming meant safeguarding the lifeblood of the nation. Since the Warring States Period, the purpose of the Great Wall of China has changed from mutual defense among the vassal states to protecting farming against nomadic herdsmen.

The existence of the Great Wall addressed the conflict between farming and nomadic peoples, reduced the number of wars, and partially resolved the problem of clashes between civilizations during that era.

In terms of the collision and integration between farming and nomadic peoples, the Great Wall embodies the unique emotions and psychological aspirations of the Chinese people. The people do not want to fight. With the construction of the Great Wall, the frequency and magnitude of wars have been significantly reduced.

Only a peace-loving nation that truly does not desire conflict would dedicate such significant manpower and material resources to construct the Great Wall. The reasoning is simple: the builders of the Great Wall could not have taken it with them to fight others. This is the central section of the Great Wall. It also aligns with the trajectory of human social development. Therefore, we say that the Great Wall is a symbol of peace.

Unification of China

In 221 B.C., Qin Shi Huang unified the six kingdoms and constructed and renovated a comprehensive Great Wall on the foundation of the original Great Wall of the Warring States of Yan, Zhao, and Qin. Since the total length of the Qin Great Wall exceeded 10,000 Li (the Chinese mile), it was later referred to as the "Great Wall of Ten Thousand Miles" (万里长城). Since ancient times, the Great Wall has played a crucial role in ensuring border defense and national security in Chinese society. It has also provided a stable environment for agricultural production in the Central Plains for a long period of time.

The foundation and growth of the Chinese nation's pluralistic pattern were significantly influenced by the Great Wall. The construction and staffing of the Great Wall, along with the battles fought in its vicinity, facilitated the integration of the Han and several minority groups in ancient China. For example, the "horse market" established along the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty demonstrated how closely China and Mongolia were integrated and dependent on one another.

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